Re-Thinking E-Learning Research: November 9-27, 2009

The narrative turn as research method

The narrative turn as research method

by Susanne Nyrop -
Number of replies: 15
Norm,

In the wiki, I found your article about narrative as a research method, which I found very interesting. This made me think back, to an evaluation project at a college of education, where they had recently opened up for a substantial number of partly distance students, mixed with the all presence ones. This was of course a very demanding situation for most of the routinely face to face staff. Most of them were using the LMS as a shelf for reading material and schedule, and for delivery box of written homework, and for trivial classroom administration tasks. A smaller group of innovators and their followers, the early adaptors, wanted a more creative, collaborative approach as mandatory. For this purpose, a set of very detailed skills material was set up, for each teacher to prove and document his or her "skills" in many ways, web 2.0 tools included.

This evaluation project was followed up by smaller hands-on courses where those who felt unsure about specific tools should ask for help and inspiration.

What was perhaps missing in this evaluation process was the narratives of the individual, ongoing work with students. The spreadsheet, combined with screen dumps as documentation for each "task", was created in a rather stringent way so that there was no room for more details and storytelling.

I don't want to make a long story out of this for now, but there was a strong resistance against the whole project as such, so I was just wondering what might have come out of a more personal narrative apprach to these evaluations. Capturing the first hand viewpoints of these stories would, to me, have brought a deeper insight in the emergent struggles for adaptation of "new technologies" into the teaching practice, as well as understanding more about what were some of the constraints along the road?

PS Just discovered that there was a plan for this seminar, and that narrative will be coming up in week 2. Hopefully my spontaneous narrative does not crash with your schedule :-)



In reply to Susanne Nyrop

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Norm Friesen -
thanks for your interesting narrative regarding "technological change" in education, and your reflections about it, Susan.

I agree with your thinking that "capturing the first hand viewpoints of these stories would... have brought a deeper insight in the emergent struggles for adaptation of 'new technologies.'"

There are many ingrained ways of speaking, thinking and researching of/into technological change in education undermine and detract from what individual or group narratives can tell us. I try to highlight these in my book, and you identify one in your message: a focus on quantitative measures and the function of the technology (and on learning outcomes) to the exclusion of how teachers and students understood, adapted and integrated it into their practice. In the introduction to the book, I try to make the case that the multiple and complex nature of pedagogical and integration processes/activities means that we need a similarly nuanced and pluarlistic approach to research.

Important aspects of these questions are actually raised in greatest detail in the final chapter and topic for discussion in this seminar. (So there is no need to worry about adhering to a strict order in the discussion :-))

Cheers,

Norm





In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Jeffrey Keefer -
Norm-

I just used narrative inquiry in a paper for my degree program, and found the method quite interesting. Can you speak a little about how you analyzed your interview notes with Lisa? This is something I found challenging to learn (even when surrounded by research texts!).

Thank you.

Jeffrey
In reply to Jeffrey Keefer

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier -

Yes, this is also my question. I am especially interested in how the data from your analysis was also organized.

You've given us lots to think about here, Norm

Thank you for that!

Wendy

In reply to Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier

The story of Lisa

by Sylvia Currie -
I STRUGGLE with the topic of research -- especially with the language around different approaches and methods. Always have. (Jeffrey, I feel for you that you're "surrounded by research texts"! smile) So I really appreciate the way Chapter 2, Narrative: The Storied Multiplicity of E-Learning Research, guides us through the story of Lisa a way to describe narrative.

Narrative as a contrast to other methods was really highlighted for me here (p.39):

"...the story of Lisa's use of Web-logs is retold and analyzed here not so much in the hope of "proving" or establishing any generalizable truths... Instead,...the particular "case" constituted by Lisa's narrative has been presented in the hope of learning something..." (my bold)

And I like the idea that what you learn from stories is often unexpected, or upon revisiting ("repeated interpretation and analysis") what you learn is influenced by your current interests and focus.

Now in my attempt to bring Lyotard's ideas around meta-narratives to a practical place in my head, I imagine combining experiences that are documented by others (in other contexts) with stories closer to my own research context.




In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Jeffrey Keefer -
Norm-

I was a little confused with how you ended the chapter, specifically about your quoting of Lyotard. When I think of his work around The Postmodern Condition, I think of his demonstrating that the grand stories we tell ourselves about reality are more incomplete and inaccurate than we like to believe. I was a little unclear how you relate this to the approach you take in your text. I am sure it is there and I am just missing it, though hope to hear you explain it a bit.

Thank you!

Jeffrey
In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Jeffrey Keefer -
Norm-

You mentioned that issues of validity and reliability do not apply in the same way as they would in quantitative inquiry, and while your more naturalistic inquiry will establish trustworthiness in different ways, can you speak a little about how you approached this (given that narrative inquiry does not seem to have a clear and consistent approach to this).

Thank you.

Jeffrey
In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier -

A number of my research participants have welcomed the opportunity to "tell their story". They have likened the narrative portions as ways to add some humanistic context to the data. They feel it is important to be able to place their learning about technology along-side the counts and measures traditionally associated with quantitative research.

Wendy

In reply to Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Jeffrey Keefer -
Wendy-

In what sort of research do you engage?

Jeffrey
In reply to Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Norm Friesen -
Wendy & Jeffrey,

Thanks for your questions and your discussion. I'm giving these issues some thought (and am also teaching a seminar) this weekend. So I'll reply in much more detail over the next 24-48 hours; in the meantime, I thank you for your interest and your patience!

-Norm
In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Jeffrey Keefer -

Norm-

Great; will look forward to your thoughts about this. Perhaps it will foster some online discussion on this topic (which I am very interested in).

Jeffrey

In reply to Jeffrey Keefer

Re: The narrative turn -Analysis

by Norm Friesen -
Hi, all.

thanks for your patience in waiting for me to get back to my desk and my thoughts ('been to Quebec City & Vancouver in the last little while).

Let me first try to answer the question as to how I analyze the narrative data: My techniques in this regard are fairly organic; I just used MSWord to find and flag up important parts. I first look at those parts (in a hard copy of the transcript) that correspond to parts of the interview that I remember as being especially rich.

In looking for things that are important, I use the categories of narrative or plot stages (exposition, crisis, evaluation, etc.) to categorize different parts of the transcript (at least in my mind). What appeared especially important were moments of transition between one part or another, or even a short passage (a paragraph) that on its own represented a coda, crisis or some other short plot element on its own. It was at these points where some of the most important elements come to the fore. For example, I quote in the chapter/article the passage that presents a kind of turning point (crisis, denouement) in the narrative. This is where Lisa mentally goes through a list of aspects of class blogging that address her priorities or values as a teacher.

So I got to thinking well okay...many things: [My ESL students] love the computers, they want to use the computers, in the future and in their academic courses they’re going to have to ...


I looked for parts like these where Lisa comes to the fore as an actor or agent in her setting, and where she explains the motivation about her situation, her actions and their consequences.

I hope this helps

-N
In reply to Wendy Kraglund-Gauthier

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Norm Friesen -
Hi, All.

Another question I wanted to be sure to answer was the way that Lyotard's notion of meta-narratives is supposed to fit into the overall argument.

The way that I've been thinking of meta-narrative is that it represents an overarching story that we can attach our own little narratives to. Religion or a belief in history as the unfolding of scientific progress provides these kinds of narratives that allow the humble (tiny?) story of one person or one set of events to be integrated into. They give sense to stories or events that would otherwise be struggling for meaning --or even tragically devoid of significance. If I thought that scientific and human progress (or class struggle) were leading to a better world for all, then I could situate my own story, struggles and challenges in that context.

The problem, Lyotard says, is that these large overarching meta-narratives no longer hold today. That can be seen as a good thing, since we are no longer justifying things like wars or other tragedies as somehow being the necessary "cost" of achieving progress, as attaining some kind of final utopia or as a "war to end all wars."

This may sound rather abstract and general, but it is important to think about. If we no longer have a meta-narrative of technical progress in general, we also need to be critical and reflective about any automatic assumptions that technological progress is the answer for education.

But Lyotard says that in the absence of these metanarratives, we need to actually pay more rather than less attention to narratives --specifically to humble narratives of individuals and everyday struggles. That is where the idea of the micro narrative comes in. Lyotard says that we should focus on, reflect on and even celebrate these small, "provisional, contingent, temporary, and relative" narratives (Barry, 2002, p. 87).

He says that "Each of us lives at the intersection of many of these" micro-narratives, and that these can tell us a great deal about our world and ourselves.

I welcome more questions and thoughts!

-nORM

In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Cindy Xin -
Thank you Norm for your wonderful explanations. I feel like inviting my whole class to this discussion. I'm teaching a grad course on educational program evaluation this term. Inevitably, we got onto the topic of research paradigms and methods. In my attempt to explain some of the basic concepts and to supply something more fun than just text during a Friday evening class discussion, I showed the students this YouTube video that gives

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UsuFiZ5aqt8&NR=1

My students all liked it, I wonder how you think of it.

Talking about post-modernism, Lyotard, and meta-narratives, I started reading David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity. How captivating!

Cindy

In reply to Norm Friesen

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Jeffrey Keefer -

Norm, this is very helpful. I had not thought of the little (individual) narratives from this perspective before. Continuing this further, I wonder also what this may mean for issues of developing one's identity (as this is something that we are literally this week discussing in my doctoral cohort; I am studying at Lancaster University), especially as the issues of a "right" or "wrong" way of learning (content or self-concept) are dismissed with Lyotard's work.

I agree, there are tremendous repercussions with this perspective.

Where do you see this idea developing further?

Jeffrey

In reply to Jeffrey Keefer

Re: The narrative turn as research method

by Norm Friesen -
Hi Jeffrey,

I'm thinking that the idea of personal narratives could perhaps be developed further along the lines of "participatory" research and design.

Instead of seeing the introduction of technology as a "top-down" process in which the final details of user adaptations and improvisations are viewed as secondary or tertiary, these user actions could be viewed as essential to the technology. Individual narratives and feedback could be gathered as data that could be analyzed according to interpretive frameworks (that refer to categories from other analyses of plot, of personal or institutional change, etc.). Then the results could be used to actually inform decision making about technologies (and even their design, in the case of software).

This is one possibility of a future direction.

-Norm